On the grid before today’s race BBC commentator Martin Brundle was chatting to Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen. “You’re hoping to win the B-class of this race, the second division if you like”, Brundle said to the Finn. Slightly ruffled by this, Heikki replied by saying that “it’s still the same league for everybody. We don’t just target the other new teams”. Two hours later we were left feeling that there really are two divisions in Formula One at the moment and that Heikki had very definitely won that ‘B’ race Brundle was talking about.
The argument for there being two races within the grand prix is pretty clear: all of the teams racing in F1 last year finished on the same lap, with Pedro de la Rosa last of them in 12th place. Next up were the only two finishers driving for new teams: Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen, 2 laps down, followed by Karun Chandhok in the Hispania, who’d been lapped 4 times. You may or may not agree with the idea, but it’s clear at least that the three new teams are in a league, if not a race, of the own at the minute. So, let’s take a look at who’s currently topping the rookie-team table.
Here at Badger we’ve been mightily impressed by the Lotus team, who in six months have gone from an idea to a pretty impressive reality.
Okay, they’re way off the pace of the front-runners, but they look by far the best of the new teams. Yesterday they got both of their cars higher up the grid than fellow newbies Virgin Racing and Hispania, and today Heikki Kovalainen completed his second race distance in as many races. The team has been very sensible in employing a ‘to finish first, first you must finish’ mentality, and will be gaining a huge amount from the running they got in today. The Finn was happy chappy: “now we go to Malaysia with a good feeling and we’re all looking forward to that,” he said post-race.
Okay, Jarno Trulli didn’t make the start in the other car, hydraulic problems forcing him out, but Heikki’s 13th place finish is enough to make Lotus king of the rookies for the second race in a row. If any of the new teams are to trouble the established outfits this season the smart money is on it being these guys.
Second in the rookie race was the universally adored Karun Chandhok. The Indian rookie finished 4 laps down in the Hispania car, but with the team having missed all of pre-season testing this is a pretty big triumph.
And they weren’t even that slow in qualifying. Chandhok’s teammate Bruno Senna was just 4 tenths shy of Virgin’s Lucas di Grassi yesterday, a big improvement on Bahrain. Senna lasted just 5 laps: “no gears, no finish” was the explanation he offered on his Twitter feed.
But Chandhok kept motoring on, ending up 14th at the finish. “This is a fantastic day for the team and a great step forward. I am proud to have ended our first race” he said afterwards,
So a great result for Hispania, but one that means the sympathy factor might soon fade from them. They’re now a proper Formula One team- albeit one racing in the ‘Brundle B race’.
And then there’s Virgin Racing. All in all it’s been a bad weekend for the Branson-backed team, what with the almost unbelievable news on Friday that their fuel tank wasn’t big enough to complete a race distance- read more about that one here.
In qualifying they were behind Lotus, so that was a bit of a disaster too. The race wasn’t much better. Lucas di Grassi spent a lot of time in the garage as the team tried to solve an issue with his car, and eventually retired before half-distance. The Brazilian did enjoy a brief dice with Michael Schumacher, but that’ll be little consolation to a team in need of mileage.
Timo Glock ran for longer, racing Kovalainen’s Lotus before dropping out 17 laps from the end. Perhaps that was for the best though- running out of fuel would have been an embarrassing confirmation of their design mistakes.
None of the new teams have any points on the board yet, but it’s currently Lotus who sit 10th- and highest- in the constructors’ championship by dint of Kovalainen’s 13th place finish. Next up are Hispania, whilst Virgin sit bottom of the pile, yet to see a car go the distance in 2010.
So now it’s on to Malaysia, Lotus’s home race, where the battle of the newbies will continue with their back of the grid B race resuming at the Sepang circuit.